By Michael Y. P. Ang
There has been much talk about how SEA Games champion rower Saiyidah Aisyah heroically overcame the odds to win Singapore’s first-ever individual rowing gold last Tuesday.
There is similar buzz about golden milestones in equestrian, cycling, judo, men’s marathon, etc.
The unexpected victories in less-popular sports have thrown the spotlight on how the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) decides to fund national sports associations (NSAs).
Athletes’ performances are not the only criterion for determining the amount of funding an NSA receives. Hence, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), despite our footballers’ continued below-par performances, will always receive a huge slice of the pie because of football’s special status in Singapore.
The same applies to another core sport, badminton, although its funding is not primarily due to its “core” status because it had some SEA Games successes in the past.
Under the SSC’s current funding model, there can be little argument against the amount of funding for table tennis, given its Olympic silver and numerous high-profile titles.
However, if the government is serious about building a strong sporting culture among Singaporeans, the discrimination against less-popular sports must stop.
If the SSC continues to give minimal funding to these sports, especially when they have not won medals for a long time, would this not prolong Singapore’s wait for a medal to emerge?
Perhaps that is why it took so many years for Singapore to strike gold in rowing, equestrian, cycling, judo, etc.
Foreign Sports Talent (FST) Scheme
Football, badminton, and table tennis rely heavily on imported athletes for various competitions. After more than a decade of using such athletes, football and badminton have yet to surpass the achievements of their pre-FST days.
Table tennis did win an Olympic silver, but such a medal is not new to Singapore – we already have one in weightlifting from the 1960 Olympiad.
Some may argue that imported athletes help homegrown ones improve. True, but do we need them to become naturalised and take the place of homegrown players in national teams in order to raise standards?
How about SEAemploying foreign athletes as sparring partners for our badminton and table tennis players?
Others may argue that Singapore’s China-born paddlers win championships and medals that inspire native-born players like Isabelle Li and Clarence Chew to excel.
This might be true, but who inspired Singapore’s newly-crowned champions in rowing, equestrian, cycling, judo and men’s marathon, medallists in diving, and female sprinters?
Singapore spends millions to house, train, and reward China-born paddlers, yet continually spend minimal amounts of money to nurture native-born Singaporeans in other, albeit less-known, sports.
Surely, this is not the best way to build a thriving sports culture.
Which do Singaporeans value more – the triple gold medals won by rower Saiyidah, equestrian show jumper Janine Khoo and cyclist Dinah Chan (all native-born) or the impressive Olympic silver won by three China-born paddlers?
Should politicians continue to function as sports administrators?
The presidents of the FAS, Singapore Badminton Association, and Singapore Table Tennis Association are People’s Action Party politicians. Are they the best choices for their respective posts?
Should politicians continue to take on the additional task of managing national sports associations instead of devoting more time to what they are elected to do – running their constituencies’ affairs?
The Under-23 Lions’ semi-final loss to Thailand last Thursday marks their seventh consecutive failure to reach the final, while the badminton team fell below expectations, earning just one bronze despite having imported players. Singapore’s table tennis gold medals were primarily the result of fielding China-born paddlers.
In contrast, the glittering achievements of the national governing bodies for rowing, equestrian, cycling, and judo were solely the result of the talent, skill, perseverance and passion of native-born Singaporeans.
Furthermore, these governing bodies are run by everyday Singaporeans, not politicians.